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LPTV Operators Fight FCC Repacking Plans

The LPTV Spectrum Rights Coalition is fighting the FCC’s proposed repacking plan for freeing up spectrum and ignores existing low-power TV (LPTV) and translator licenses, except for the small number of “Class A” stations. A more efficient repacking will mean fewer channels for these LPTVs and translators, especially in areas with many full-power stations.

Some of the comments on the LPTV Spectrum Rights Coalition website express concern over the fact that full-power stations will be reimbursed for channel changes, while LPTV and translator licensees will not. It’s estimated the average cost per station for changing LPTV and translator frequencies could run as high as $156,250, making the Incentive Auction a $1 billion unfunded mandate for the more than 6,400 LPTV and translator licensees.

The Coalition pointed to the TVStudy software to illustrate that that all LPTV licenses will not be included.

I should note that the parameters in the TVStudy software could be set to allow LPTV licenses to be included, but as the Coalition points out on their website and in their FCC ex-parte filing:

“When Congress passed, and the President signed, the TV Spectrum Auction legislation in 2012, LPTV was left without protections other than a single sentence saying that the spectrum rights of LPTV would not be changed by the legislation. What this means is that as it was before, all LPTV licenses are secondary to full-power stations in terms of interference, have less reporting to do, they do not have to air any local or children's programming on their schedules.”

The Coalition's presentation states that the FCC will clear the band “no matter how many full power and Class-A stations participate in the auction!” It also notes that at minimum, all stations in the Channel 38 to 51 region will have to be relocated.

I certainly hope this isn’t the case. Even if we ignore LPTV and translator stations (which the Coalition doesn't want us to do), this could only occur if far more stations give up their spectrum than seems likely now, or if the FCC tries to get around the requirement that it make all reasonable efforts to preserve the coverage and population served of stations that don't participate in the auction.

A more likely scenario will be that the Commission gets back perhaps 60 MHz nationwide, or maybe a bit less. Although if they adopt a variable band plan, the impact would certainly be greater in smaller markets--the same markets where LPTV stations often play a critical role in providing free off-air television.

The Coalition currently represents 557 station licensees, construction permits holders, and industry partners in 31 states and the District of Columbia. The operating stations now provide more than 600 digital channels of local and diverse content to more than 50 million viewers in hundreds of communities, according to its website.

In ex-parte comments to the FCC, LPTV Spectrum Rights Coalition director Mike Gravino concluded, “It is illegal for the FCC to implement what PISC has suggested, and if attempted, will slow the Spectrum Auction implementation by many months or years because of the lawsuits which will be initiated to protect the rights of the LPTV, translator, and TV booster services.” (PISC is the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition which suggested LPTV, translator and booster stations are not entitled to protection in the TV Bands Database for white space devices.)

In a letter to Representative Greg Walden, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, Gravino said, “Congress through the Act, and now the FCC through the proposed channel repack rules, are attempting to drive us out of business, and we will not go quietly. We urge the Subcommittee staff and the members to listen to our concerns and proposed legislative fixes.”

I don't think we've heard the last from these LPTV, translator and booster licensees and their Coalition.